|Shasta, lone and white as a winter moon|
Difficulty: Moderate; some route-finding and rock scrambling necessary
Access: Paved road to trailhead, free parking
"As lone as God and white as a winter moon, Mount Shasta starts up sudden and solitary from heart of the great black forests of Northern California."So wrote Joaquin Miller, a frontier poet, of the snowy and lonely Shasta. The second tallest and second southernmost stratovolcano of the Cascade Range, Shasta's massive cone is one of the most impressive sights in a state packed with them. Castle Peak, a low but rocky summit in the nearby Trinity Divide of Northern California's Klamath Mountains, provides one of the best front-row seats to this singular, ice-clad mountain. The route to the peak via Heart Lake hits beautiful views of two different lakes and three different volcanoes in just over three miles; the catch is that it takes a bit of route-finding and rock scrambling to find your way to this still relatively unknown but increasingly popular peak.
I hiked up to Castle Peak on a reasonably nice late October day with three friends. We set out from the Bay Area early in the morning, stopping for lunch at Wilda's Grill in Redding and setting up our campsite at the Sims Flat Campground before driving to the trailhead in the early afternoon. The easiest way to reach the trailhead from I-5 is to leave the interstate at exit 738 at the city of Mount Shasta, head west on West Lake St, turn left to go south onto Old Stage Road, turn left at the next intersection to head south on W A Barr Road, continue on W A Barr until crossing the Box Canyon Dam and then immediately turn left at the next intersection onto Castle Lake Road, which dead ends at the lake after making its way uphill into the mountains of the Trinity Divide. Although Castle Peak, the destination of our hike, is over 6600 feet high, the car had already done most of the work, shuttling us over a mile above sea level to the trailhead. Castle Peak, Heart Lake, and Castle Lake are located in Shasta-Trinity National Forest; currently no fee is charged for trailhead parking.
The parking lot had enough room for at least 20 cars and was close to full on that comfortable fall day. The trailhead was unmarked, to the left of the parking area. We started by following one of the many beaten paths down to the lakeshore for a view of Castle Lake, a large lake that filled a glacier-carved bowl. The bare granite of Castle Peak rose to the south; two forested ridges bound the lake on either side. Placards here noted Castle Lake's significance in the field of limnology: scientists from UC Davis began monitoring this lake in the 1950s in a study that has continued through today in the longest-running mountain lake research program in existence, making this one of the most well-researched aquatic ecosystems in the world.
The path that we followed towards Heart Lake approached a picturesque pine perched over the Castle Lake basin, with Black Butte visible near the city of Mount Shasta and Mount Shasta itself just visible, poking out from behind the ridge east of Castle Lake. Black Butte, a steep cinder cone, was one of the more distinct geological features we noted on the hike.
|Black Butte rises in the distance, Castle Lake in the foreground|
|Shasta and Shastina reflected in Heart Lake|
|Shasta towers over Castle Lake|
As we continued upwards, views of the Castle Lake Basin opened up and we spotted both of the lakes that we had visited that day. Along with a handful of other lakes in the Trinity Mountains, these subalpine pools form the headwaters of the Sacramento River, one of the two major rivers that flows through California's Central Valley (the other is the San Joaquin, which flows from the alpine lakes of the High Sierra).
|Shasta with Castle and Heart Lakes, from just below Castle Peak|
|Lassen Peak and the Castle Crags|
|Castle Crags from Castle Peak|
|Hazy blue ridges of the Klamath Mountains|
|Shasta and the lakes|
|Castle Crags from the descent along the Castle Peak east ridge|
|Last light on Shasta|